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- Managing chemotherapy side effects
- Appetite changes, nausea or vomiting
Appetite changes, nausea or vomiting
It is common for your appetite to change during chemotherapy. Sometimes you may not feel hungry or you may prefer different types of food. The drugs may also temporarily change how food tastes.
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Chemotherapy can make you feel sick (nauseated) or cause you to vomit. Not everyone feels sick during or after chemotherapy, but if nausea affects you, it often starts a few days after your first treatment. Nausea may last a short time or for many hours and it may be accompanied by vomiting or retching. Sometimes nausea lasts for days after treatment.
Often the best way to manage nausea is to prevent it from starting. Anti-nausea (antiemetic) medicine helps most people, but finding the right one can take time. If nausea or vomiting continues after using the prescribed medicine, let your nurse or doctor know early so that another medicine can be tried. Steroids may also be used to manage nausea.
Being unable to keep liquids down because of vomiting can cause you to become dehydrated. Signs of dehydration include a dry mouth and skin, dark urine, dizziness and confusion. It is not safe to be left alone if you are vomiting a lot, as the confusion may make it difficult to realise you have become seriously dehydrated.
How to manage appetite loss
- Eat what you feel like, when you feel like it. Have frequent snacks instead of large meals.
- Try to eat extra on days when you have an appetite.
- Avoid strong odours and cooking smells that may put you off eating. It might help to prepare meals ahead and freeze them for days you don’t feel like cooking.
- If the taste of certain foods has changed, don’t force yourself to eat them. Your sense of taste should return to normal after treatment ends.
- If you don’t feel like eating solid foods, try enriching your drinks with powdered milk, yoghurt or honey. Or try easy-to-swallow food such as scrambled eggs.
- Don’t use nutritional supplements or medicines without your doctor’s advice, as some could affect how your treatment works.
- Ask a dietitian for advice on the best eating plan during treatment and recovery.
How to manage nausea
- Have a light, bland meal before your treatment (e.g. soup with dry biscuits, crackers or toast).
- Sip water or other fluids throughout the day so that you don’t get dehydrated. Sucking on ice cubes or iceblocks or eating jellies can also increase your fluid intake. If water tastes unpleasant, flavour it with ginger cordial or syrup.
- If your stomach is upset, try drinking fizzy drinks such as soda water or dry ginger ale.
- If you wake up feeling sick, eat a dry biscuit or slice of toast rather than skipping food.
- If you aren’t able to keep fluids down, contact your doctor or hospital immediately. They may be able to treat the vomiting, or you may need to have fluids through an intravenous drip in hospital.
Once I started chemotherapy, I went off my food. My mouth felt very dry, which made food taste unappetising. Adding extra sauce helped.Helen
Clinical A/Prof Rosemary Harrup, Director, Cancer and Blood Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian, Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Queensland Health, QLD; Gillian Blanchard, Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Stacey Burton, Consumer; Dr Fiona Day, Staff Specialist, Medical Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, The University of Newcastle, NSW; Andrew Greig, Consumer; Steve Higgs, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT.
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